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Melbourne Highlights - Day 1

by Alexandra Willis
Monday 16 January 2012

They say that playing in front of your home crowd is the hardest thing you can do as a tennis player. Support becomes pressure, hope becomes expectation. But for some players, it proves to be a boon. Such was the case for Bernard Tomic, who gave Australians something to go bananas about on the first day of the 2012 Australian Open.

Tomic has had a bit of a love/hate relationship with his home nation. Having sprung into the spotlight so dramatically as a teen, taking Marin Cilic to five sets at the Open two years ago, he did not endear himself by complaining about playing at night. 'Grow up,' people thought. There have been other incidents since, most recently his being charged with 'hooning,' something he says was a deliberate move by a policeman who held a grudge against him.

But all will be forgiven after his masterful display on Rod Laver Arena against Fernando Verdasco, Melbourne Park semi-finalist in 2009, Davis Cup winner, and the No.22 seed. The Spaniard was proving the more effective in hot yet blustery conditions in Melbourne, battering the ball from the baseline, his day-glo yellow and orange kit practically blinding his opponent into submission.

Tomic, who rather like Andy Murray likes to craft his way into a match, had no answer to Verdasco's pace, no plan B for when his cat-and-mouse approach breaks down. He had chances, but didn't use them.

Luckily for him, Verdasco found the answer for him by going completely off the boil. And, credit to the 19-year-old, Tomic took full advantage. Roaring through the next two sets to force a deciding fifth set, the Australian No.1 kept pestering, buzzing like a gnat around Verdasco's groundstrokes, flattening his shots, upping the pace, and letting rip.

Coming through 4-6, 6-7(3), 6-4, 6-2, 7-5 in four hours and 11 minutes, Tomic has never lost a first-round match at the Australian Open.

"It was torture," he said afterwards. "I really don't know how I won."

His challenge will be to keep it going against Sam Querrey.

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While there were straightforward wins for Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Kim Clijsters and Victoria Azarenka, among others, the other of the day's headlines was the demise of British hopes after a great deal of early promise. After the successful qualification of Laura Robson and James Ward on Saturday, Britain had six players in the main draw of a Grand Slam outside of Wimbledon for the first time since the 1992 Australian Open.

But one day into the competition, it was back to just the one man standing, Andy Murray the lone player left with the British flag next to his name.

Admittedly, the tasks weren't easy. Heather Watson could do little against the power and poise of Victoria Azarenka, the world No.3, succumbing 6-1, 6-0. Laura Robson, similarly, had to deal with 11th seed Jelena Jankovic, and couldn't quite cause her any aggravation, losing 6-2, 6-0. For James Ward and Elena Baltacha, winnable matches simply didn't go their way, tricky conditions not letting them get into their routine. And finally, Anne Keothavong did exceptionally well even to make it on to the court after two days of sleepless nights with food poisoning, retiring after the first set against Mona Barthel.

"It just so happened that we all played on the same day," Robson said. "I think everyone obviously tried their best and Heather played Azarenka who is on great form, so that was tough draw for her, and Anne had food poisoning. I'm not trying to make excuses for all of us, but I just think it's not a disaster."

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It has been a relatively fiery opening day after Rafael Nadal criticised Roger Federer for not doing enough to help change the tour, preferring to let other players 'burn' in public with their complaints, while he remained a 'gentleman' in the background.

Federer responded to say that there were no hard feelings between the two Rs, that he understood Nadal's frustrations, which the pair have discussed at length, and that it is a constantly evolving debate. Watch this space.

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For all the reports and results from the opening day at Melbourne Park, visit the Official Australian Open website


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